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AGRICULTURAL

ALTERNATIVES agalternatives.aers.psu.edu

Rabbit
Production
Rabbit farming has grown from raising a few rabbits for
family consumption to large commercial operations with
hundreds of rabbits. Investment in a rabbitry, including
breeding stock, can be quite modest. Expansion is much
simpler than other livestock alternatives because a large
range of existing facilities can be modified for rabbits and
land requirements are negligible. According to the 2002
Census of Agriculture (NASS), there were more than 4,300
farms selling almost 890,000 rabbits nationally. In Pennsyl-
vania, 298 farms sold more than 112,000 rabbits, making it
the top producer nationally. Table 1. Commercial rabbit breeds.
Many breeds of rabbits are produced commercially in
this country. Some of the most popular breeds are listed Mature
Breeds Size Use Weight (lbs)
in Table 1. Rabbits are classified according to their weight
or hair. The weight categories are small (3 to 4 pounds), Angora medium wool; meat 9–12
medium (9 to 12 pounds), and large (14 to 16 pounds). For American Chinchilla medium fur 9–12
meat production, medium-weight New Zealand Whites are
Californian medium meat 8–11
best, followed by Californians. For laboratory use, the breed
will depend on the specifications of the customer. Angora Champagne d’Argent medium meat 9–12
rabbits are the only breed used for wool production. Checkered Giants large fur 11+
Typical part-time enterprises consist of 50 to 100 rab-
bits. A full-time enterprise should have at least 600 females Dutch small lab 3–6
(does) and 60 males (bucks). Each doe produces 25 to 50 English Spot medium meat; lab 9–13
live rabbits a year, which will yield 125 to 250 pounds of
Flemish Giants large meat 13+
meat. Angora rabbits produce 8 to 10 inches, or 12 to 16
ounces, of wool per year. Himalayan small lab 2–6
New Zealand medium meat 9–12
Polish small lab 3–4
This publication was developed by the Small-scale and
Part-time Farming Project at Penn State with support from Rex medium fur 8–11
the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Extension Service. Silver Martens medium fur 6–10

College of Agricultural Sciences


Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension
Marketing health problems. Purchase rabbits that will produce large,
but not huge, litters (8 to 10 kits), raise a high percentage
Before you start producing rabbits, you must identify your of their offspring to maturity, and produce good-quality
market. Rabbits are raised not only for meat, laboratory use, animals.
breeding stock, and Angora wool but also for their skins and
for youth programs, such as 4-H, FFA, Pennsylvania Rabbit Housing
Breeders, and American Rabbit Breeders Associations.
When raising rabbits for meat, you must consider the The rabbitry should be an enclosed building that has proper
availability of slaughtering facilities, type of packaging ventilation, lighting, heating, and cooling systems. Heating
required, transportation cost, and potential buyers. and ventilation are crucial because rabbits do not tolerate
Restaurants, wholesalers, custom meat stores, and indi- temperature extremes very well. You should maintain the
vidual buyers are the main purchasers of rabbit meat. Tra- herd on a year-round schedule of 12 hours each of light and
ditionally, rabbit prices tend to be lower during the summer darkness to keep the rabbits breeding throughout the year.
months because of high supply, so marketing during this Many different types of hutches can be used. However,
time may be more challenging. Rabbits are typically slaugh- all metal cages help prevent unsanitary conditions that can
tered as fryers at 5 pounds (about 10 weeks of age). Often lead to health problems. The cages should be made of 1-by-
considered a delicacy, rabbit meat is white, fine grained, and 2-inch mesh for the sides and top and 0.5-by-1-inch mesh
delicately flavored. It also is high in protein and low in fat, for the floor. Hanging the cages from the ceiling in single
cholesterol, sodium, and calories. layers makes management easier for the producer. Mature
Laboratory rabbit production has the potential to be a bucks and does should have individual cages that are at least
very profitable enterprise, but the requirements for entering 30 inches wide, 30 inches deep, and 20 inches high. Junior
the market make it difficult to become established. When does, fryers, and Angora rabbits (nonbreeding does and
producing for laboratories, hospitals, or universities, you castrated bucks) may be kept in small groups in one pen.
must be licensed and must meet the requirements for breed, Each cage should have a feed hopper and a watering system
age, weight, and any other characteristics that are specified. attached to the outside of the cage.
You must raise the animals under controlled conditions, and A nest box should be placed in the hutch prior to kindling
the facility must be highly sanitary and strictly monitored. (birth) to provide seclusion for the doe and protection for the
It is recommended that you start your business by selling litter. Nest boxes should provide enough room for each doe
through an experienced supplier for a while before dealing and her litter but should be small enough to keep the litter
directly with laboratories. close together. Nest boxes can be made of nontreated wood,
If you choose to market breeding stock, establishing a wire mesh, or sheet metal. During cold weather, bedding
reputation for raising high-quality animals is critical. You such as straw or wood shavings is also recommended. The
can develop your reputation by maintaining accurate and box should be enclosed except for a small opening on top
detailed health records, exhibiting rabbits at shows, and for the doe to enter (Figure 1).
advertising in rabbit journals and farm periodicals. Maintaining a sanitary operation will help you prevent
The market for Angora wool is small, and the wool is disease. The best waste management systems have porous
usually sold directly to individuals or organizations buying pits under the cages with layers of sand, gravel, and drain-
for mills. Some producers choose to spin the wool into age tile. Earth and concrete floors are acceptable but require
yarn and market it directly to the general public. Angora is
a high-quality wool often used to manufacture luxury gar-
ments and therapeutic clothing for people with arthritis and Nest box.
other joint diseases.

Getting Started
Once you have researched your particular market (meat, 12"
laboratory, breeding stock, or wool), you can then plan the
size of your operation and determine which breed of rabbits
to raise. The smallest production unit to consider is a herd of
around 20 does serviced by 2 bucks. 12"
When purchasing your breeding stock, contact local
breeders and rabbit clubs and check advertisements in rabbit 24" 12" 12"
magazines and the American Rabbit Breeders Association
directory. Whenever possible, ask to see herd health and
breeding records and the visit the production facilities. The
rabbitry should be clean, well managed, and free of any This simple nest box can be made from scrap lumber to fit
right inside the cage.
more frequent cleaning. You should have concrete walkways
between the cages and should remove accumulated manure
Health Program
at least twice a year. Cages and nest boxes should be cleaned The most important factors for maintaining a healthy rab-
and sanitized after each use, and the hair should be burned bit herd are cleanliness, good ventilation, close observation,
off the cages. New additions to the herd, especially those and protection from sun and rain. Rabbits are susceptible
purchased from a wholesale market, and any sick animals to several diseases that can reduce production to unprofit-
should be kept in separate cages isolated from the rest of the able levels. The respiratory disease caused by Pasturella
herd until any diseases are determined or until the animal is multocida is responsible for decreased productivity and a
well. high mortality rate in does. Pasturella-free animals can be
Raising worms under rabbit hutches can be successfully purchased and may be a good investment.
combined in indoor operations or outdoor operations if the To help prevent disease problems, do not permit casual
climate is moderate. Worms will consume the manure and visitors inside the rabbitry. They may introduce disease and
any spilled feed, which will eliminate some of the odor, cause additional stress to the animals. Isolate any sick or
waste, and labor associated with manure management while injured rabbits immediately. Disinfect the isolation cage and
providing an additional source of income. Composted rabbit the rabbit’s regular cage to avoid spreading diseases. For a
manure may also represent an income opportunity for sale to good health program, you should keep accurate records on
homeowners. each animal. Provide each rabbit with a tattoo identifica-
tion number or ear tag and attach an identification card with
Breeding health and breeding information to its hutch.

Medium-weight breeds (9 to 12 pounds) are able to start


breeding at 6 to 7 months of age, with males maturing one
Regulations
month later than females. Because outward signs of heat are All agricultural producers in Pennsylvania, including small
not always evident in mature does, you should follow a strict and part-time farms, operate under Pennsylvania’s Clean
breeding schedule. One buck can service about 10 does but Streams Law. A specific part of this law is the Nutrient
no more than two to three times a week. Place the female Management Act. There are portions of the Nutrient Man-
in the buck’s cage for breeding. Never bring the buck to the agement Act (Act 38) that may pertain to you depending on
doe’s cage because she will fight to protect her territory. the mix of enterprises you have on your farm (in particular,
Mating should occur immediately, and the doe should then animal operations). Because all farms are a potential source
be returned to her cage. of surface or groundwater pollution, you should contact
The average gestation period lasts 31 to 32 days. Twenty- your local Soil and Water Conservation District to determine
eight days after breeding, place the nest box in the doe’s what regulations may pertain to your operation.
hutch. The average commercial litter consists of 8 to 10 kits. You should also check your local zoning regulations to
Forty-eight hours after birth, you should observe and count make sure that your intended business activities are permit-
the kits, removing any dead animals. Remove the nest box ted in your location.
5 to 21 days after birth. The young are weaned in about 30
days, so you can expect an average of five litters annually
per doe. Under proper management, a good doe will con- Risk Management
tinue to produce maximum-sized litters for 2 to 3 years.
There are several risk management strategies you may
want to employ for your farm. You should insure your build-
Nutrition ings and equipment and you may also want to insure your
income. Insuring your farm buildings and equipment and
Two types of nutrition programs are used for raising rabbits: obtaining adequate liability coverage may be accomplished
hay and grain diets or commercial prebalanced pellet ra- by consulting your insurance agent or broker. You can also
tions. Pellets meet all of a rabbit’s nutritional requirements insure income from livestock enterprises through a whole-
and are more convenient than formulating a hay and grain farm protection program called AGR-Lite. To obtain AGR-
ration. Pregnant does and those with litters should receive Lite insurance you will need your last five years of Internal
all the feed they can eat in a day. Bucks and does without Revenue Service (IRS) Schedule F forms. AGR-Lite insur-
litters need 6 to 8 ounces of pellets a day. When raising An- ance is federally subsidized and is available from private
gora rabbits, you should avoid feeding hay because the dust crop insurance agents. Contact a crop insurance agent to see
will contaminate the wool and lower its quality. if this type of coverage makes sense for you.
Rabbits require fresh, clean water every day. Automatic For more information on agricultural business insurance,
watering systems offer a continuous water supply while please see Agricultural Alternatives: Agricultural Busi-
reducing waste and contamination. A doe and her litter need ness Insurance. More information on crop insurance can be
1 gallon of water a day in warm weather. Rabbits also enjoy found on the Pennsylvania Crop Insurance Education Web
receiving small amounts of greens as a treat. site (http://cropins.aers.psu.edu/).
Budgeting For More Information
The following sample budget gives an example of the an- Arrington, L. R., and K. C. Kelley. Domestic Rabbit Biology
nual costs and returns of meat rabbit production based on and Production. Gainesville: University Press of Florida,
20 does and 2 bucks. This sample budget should help ensure 1977.
that all costs and receipts are included in your calculations.
Cheeke, P. R. Rabbit Feeding and Nutrition. New York:
Costs are often difficult to estimate in budget preparation
Academic Press, 1987.
because they are numerous and variable. Also, construction
of you own pens can lower costs considerably. Therefore, Cheeke, P. R., N. M. Patton, S. D. Lukefahr, and J. I.
you should think of these budgets as a first approximation McNitt. Rabbit Production. 6th ed. Danville, Ill.: Interstate
and then make appropriate adjustments using the “Your Printers and Publishers, 2000.
Estimate” column to reflect your specific production and Harkness, J. E., and J. E. Wagner. The Biology and Medi-
resource situation. cine of Rabbits and Rodents. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lea and
A sample budget for laboratory rabbits has not been Febinger, 1995.
included because it is difficult to enter the market and the
expected costs are hard to determine. It is recommended that Live-In Rabbit. University Park: Penn State Media Sales.
you carefully investigate this market and its entry require-
ments before making the decision to raise rabbits for labora- Periodical
tory research. Likewise, an Angora rabbit production budget Countryside and Small Stock Journal. Withee, Wisc.:
has not been included because of the specialized nature of Countryside Publications.
the market. More information on the use of livestock bud-
gets can be found in Agricultural Alternatives: Enterprise
Associations
Budget Analysis.
American Rabbit Breeders Association
P.O. Box 426
Bloomington, IL 61702

e Requirements
Initial Resourc Web Sites
re Associations
■ Land: 1/8 ac year
■ Total labor:
150–200 hours per http://www.arba.net/nationalclub.htm
■ Capital: d 2 bucks at $40 National Club Links
(20 does an
Breeding stock http://www.iowastaterba.com/national_club_links.htm
each): $840 lities: $6,000
Bu ild in gs , ca ge s, and handling faci Raising Rabbits—The Basics
http://www.debmark.com/rabbits/basics.htm
A Rabbit Glossary of Terms
http://islandgems.net/terms.html
Sample Fryer Rabbit Budget
Based on 20 does and 2 bucks producing 5 litters per year (7 kits for sale).
Selling at 5 pounds and 10 weeks of age (3,500 pounds per year).

Quantity Unit Price Amount Your Estimate


Receipts pound
Variable Costs
Commercial feed pellets 5 tons $440.00 $2,200.00 ____________
Health program $25.00 ____________
Marketing $200.00 ____________
Supplies and miscellaneous $50.00 ____________
Interest on operating capital $91.00 ____________
Total Variable Costs $2,566.00 ____________

Fixed Costs
Labor 150–200 hours ____________
Replacement breeding stock $280.00 ____________
Buildings, cages, and handling facilities $750.00 ____________
Total Fixed Costs $1,030.00 ____________

Total Costs $3,596.00 ____________
Net income ____________

Potential Income at Various Prices


Price Per Pound Net Income

$0.75 $2,625
$0.80 $2,800
$0.85 $2,975
$0.90 $3,150
$0.95 $3,325
$1.00 $3,500
$1.05 $3,675
$1.10 $3,850
$1.15 $4,025
$1.20 $4,200
$1.25 $4,375
$1.30 $4,550
$1.35 $4,725
$1.40 $4,900
$1.45 $5,075
$1.50 $5,250
Prepared by Robert Shaeffer, Clay Valley Farm; Lynn F. Kime, senior extension associate in agriculture economics;
and Jayson K. Harper, professor of agricultural economics.
Visit Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences on the Web: www.cas.psu.edu
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Produced by Ag Communications and Marketing
© The Pennsylvania State University 2008
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